Baseball stays hot as softball bounces back
The Washington University baseball team is off to one of its hottest starts in years, and the Bears kept that up this weekend with a three-game sweep of DePauw University. Wash. U. outscored the Tigers 31-5 over the three games, mercying DePauw in the first two games and improving to 8-0 on the season.
The three wins, 12-1, 10-0 and 9-4, brought the Bears to a No. 2 ranking nationally ahead of their first game against a ranked opponent this year, Wednesday against Webster University.
As they have throughout the early season, Wash. U. pitchers dominated the Tigers. Senior Ryan Loutos, the staff ace, tossed seven innings of one-run ball in the opening game Saturday, striking out 12 batters and allowing five hits. Loutos, who has allowed just one earned run in 19 and a third innings this year, is striking out an average of 15.36 opposing hitters per nine innings.
“Ryan has worked really hard since even the end of our shortened year last year,” head coach Pat Bloom said Monday. “He’s learned a lot about not just his delivery and his stuff, but I think he’s also learned a lot about his mental game and the approach that he needs to take that will fit best for him…You’re just seeing the fruits of all that labor.”
But Loutos is not alone in his early season dominance. Overall, the Bears’ pitching staff has a combined earned run average of just 1.19, nearly a full run lower than the staff ERA was in 2019 when the Bears had the best mark across Division III. Senior Troy Bauer shut out DePauw over seven innings in the second game Saturday to continue his train of successes and bring his own ERA down to 1.13 through three starts.
The Wash. U. offense gave the pitchers the support they needed and more. Junior Zac Styka opened the floodgates with a leadoff home run to start the scoring in the fourth inning of Saturday’s first game and the Bears did not stop there. They scored six runs in the fourth and five in the sixth to mercy the Tigers. Senior Henry Singer and junior Tim Van Kirk, the Bears’ first two hitters in the lineup, had standout weekends, as Singer drove in six runs Saturday and Van Kirk is riding an eight-game hitting streak to start the year (with multiple hits in all but one game).
“Most teams would take him and have him as their starting shortstop and leadoff hitter,” Bloom said of Van Kirk, a walk-on. “He’s really off to a great start.”
Still, the Bears are likely in for their toughest test yet against Webster, which will come into the game No. 5 in the country. “Webster is, without question, one of the best teams in the country, and they have been a perennial top 15, even 10 team over the past decade,” Bloom said. “I expect it will be a great matchup on the midweek.”
The game will be streamed live Wednesday at 2 p.m.
Softball rebounds from doubleheader sweep of Westminster
For the Washington University softball team, it was good to be back home this weekend, too. Competing on the Danforth Campus for the first time this year, the Bears completed a two-game sweep of Westminster College, winning the opening contest 6-1 and blowing out the Blue Jays 11-4 in the afternoon to bounce back after being shut out by Wartburg College in two games last weekend.
The doubleheader sweep brought the Bears to 4-5 on the season.
Wash. U. stumbled out of the gates against Westminster, falling behind 1-0 early in the first contest. But in the bottom of the third inning, the Bears finally broke through, stringing together a sequence of clutch two-out hits that were capped by RBI singles from junior Nicole Hay and sophomore Kayla Nommensen to claw back into a 2-1 lead.
The Bears did not look back from there. Wash. U. added four more runs to break the game open and pitcher junior Holly Stoner was able to hold the Blue Jays off the scoreboard for the rest of the contest, finishing off a one-run complete game.
In the second game of the doubleheader, Wash. U. flexed its muscles. Though the Bears again fell behind early—this time 3-0—they were able to recover thanks to an otherworldly power display. Sophomore Tami Wong blasted two home runs, knocking in five runs in the process, and sophomore Payton Irwin went 3 for 3, cracking a home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to raise her season batting average to a team-leading .570. That was more than enough run support to buoy pitcher junior Madison Denton, who, after shaking off a few early runs, went on to close out a seven-inning, four-run complete game.
In both games, the Bears were aided by a much-improved defensive effort: For the first time this season, Wash. U. didn’t commit any errors. “We just need the chance to be out there and practice and play, I mean, it’s kind of that simple,” head coach Michelle Venturella noted after the sweep. “Sunday was only the third day that we’ve played on our field.
Venturella and the Bears are indeed trying to take advantage of every chance they have to compete consistently. In anticipation of Tuesday’s rainstorm, Wash. U. swapped out Monday’s scheduled day off for another practice. And it seems likely that the field will be ready by Wednesday in time for the team’s game against Webster University, which will provide another opportunity for live competition.
As players finally work their way back into a rhythm, Venturella is insistent that her squad doesn’t let up. “You know, honestly it’s after coming off of playing, you know, two games, it’s really like, can we do it again?” she said. “It’s coming in and making sure that when you raise the standard or that can now be your minimum, and you just continuously raise the bar. I’m honestly not as concerned with who our opponent is. I’m more concerned with how we’re playing the game.”
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